Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – Commissioned by “Mad” King Ludwig II, this 19th century Romanesque Revival castle is prominently perched in the Bavarian Alps near Fussen, Germany. Walt Disney famously used the castle as inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty Castle. Over 1.3 million tourists visit Neuschwanstein annually, making it one of the top destinations in all of Europe.
Alcázar de Segovia, Spain — With its gabled roofs and soaring turrets, Segovia’s medieval Alcázar looks like something straight out of a fairytale. The only thing missing is a dragon in the moat! Originally built in the early 12th century, it later served as a royal residence for the Kingdom of Castile, including the patron of Christopher Columbus, Queen Isabella. You can tour the vast interior and even climb the spiral staircases inside the towers. From the rooftop you’re rewarded with a commanding view of Segovia’s Old Town and the surrounding countryside.
Malahide Castle, Ireland – Located just nine miles north of Dublin on a sprawling green estate, Malahide Castle also dates back to the 12th century. The Talbot family occupied it nearly continuously for 800 years, until 1973 when the last of the descendants died. The interior is furnished with a collection of 17th through 19th century Irish antiques, including an extensive display of portrait paintings on loan from the National Gallery. Malahide Castle is reportedly haunted by five different ghosts!
Hohenschwangau Castle, Germany – Only a stone’s throw away from Neuschwanstein Castle, this 19th century palace was built by King Maximilian II of Bavaria and served as the childhood residence of his son, King Ludwig II. It was built on the remains of the Schuangau Fortress, which was constructed on the same lofty hilltop seven centuries earlier.
Palácio Nacional da Pena, Portugal – Built for King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II in the mid-1800s, the Palácio looks like it belongs at Disneyland, with its soaring turrets, ramparts, arcades, and many fanciful details. It’s painted in various shades of red, pink, yellow, and gray, with lots of intricate blue and white azulejo tiles as well. The interior is exquisitely decorated with tromp l’oeil painted walls and ceilings, fine tapestries, and an abundance of antique furniture. Several terraces afford spectacular views of the other sights of Sintra, as well as the sparkling Atlantic Ocean on the horizon. Surrounding the castle is a beautiful park of exotic trees that the king had imported from all over the world, including sequoias from North America and tree ferns from Australia.
Guaita Castle, San Marino – A tiny enclave perched high atop Mount Titano, the microstate of San Marino prides itself on being the oldest sovereign republic in the world. And at only 24-square miles, it ranks as the fifth smallest country too. Composed of nine towns, or castelli, San Marino’s main tourist draw is its capital city, also called San Marino. Accessible by aerial tramway, the Historic Centre is like a page out of a fairytale. High stone walls, complete with battlements, surround the Historic Centre with three medieval towers interspersed along the ridge of the mountain.
Sleeping Beauty Castle, U.S.A – Ok, so this last one is not in Europe; it’s at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. However, there’s no mistaking the obvious influence the fairytale castles of Europe had on its design. It opened on July 17, 1955 and has been the castle that children all over the world have dreamed of ever since. In contrast to the “real” castles listed above, the Sleeping Beauty Castle is only seventy-seven feet tall. It was designed to appear taller through a process known as forced perspective where design elements are larger at the foundation and smaller at the turrets.
There are countless other fairytale castles in Europe. Which ones are your favorites? Feel free to comment in the section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author